John 13:34
Great Texts of the Bible
The New Commandment

A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.—John 13:34.

When the Lord spoke to His disciples the words of the text, Judas had just left the company for the purpose of carrying out his plans. It was a night much to be observed, the events of which are recorded in the chapter from which the text is taken; it was the night upon which the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was instituted, in which Judas joined; it was the night upon which Christ gave that remarkable lesson in humility to His disciples by washing their feet, the feet of Judas apparently amongst the rest; it was the night, too, on which the Lord gave distinct warning to this same Judas of the treachery which he was about to commit; and it was after receiving this warning that Judas went out to do his work, leaving the eleven faithful disciples behind. Any lesson, therefore, given on such a night would be likely to be well remembered, to sink deeply into the heart, and one cannot be surprised that the Lord should take advantage of such an occasion to impress some important precepts and doctrines upon His disciples; one might expect that some things which the Lord would desire to say to the Apostles before His passion, and which could scarcely be said in the presence of Judas, would now be uttered without reserve. And indeed it does seem as though the departure of Judas had taken (if one may venture to say so) a weight from off the heart of the Lord, for He enters at once into some of His deepest and most affectionate conversations with the faithful eleven.

The time is short, and there is much to be done. The preparations for His capture will begin forthwith, and He has many things to say to His Apostles which cannot be so well said at any other time. What lesson shall He take first? Upon what doctrine shall He chiefly lay stress? “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” Can we wonder that this new commandment should have afterwards so completely absorbed St. John’s own mind, when we remember that he heard it enunciated under such circumstances as these?


The New Commandment

1. The emphatic word of the text is the word translated “one another.” And the moment we place the emphasis there the meaning is evident. “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another.” Jesus had only the eleven disciples with Him; for the traitor had already gone out into the night. In the hearing of these eleven He had already announced the old commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” with an added emphasis and extended grasp. In particular, He had pointed out that their neighbour included their enemy, even such as the hated and despised Samaritan. Now He says, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love”—not your enemies, but—“one another.” The old commandment is not taken away; it lies upon these men with a great obligation, such as never was known by Jew or Gentile before. But another is added to it, another and a different commandment, that Peter love John, and John love Andrew, and Andrew love “Judas-not-Iscariot.” “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another.”

In the seventeenth century the minister of Anwoth, on the shores of Galloway, was the famous Samuel Rutherford, the great religious oracle of the Covenanters.

It is one of the traditions cherished on the spot, that on a Saturday evening, at one of those family gatherings whence, in the language of a great Scottish poet,

Old Scotia’s grandeur springs,

when Rutherford was catechizing his children and servants, a stranger knocked at the door of the Manse, and (like the young English traveller in the celebrated romance which has given fresh life to those same hills in our own age), begged shelter for the night. The minister kindly received him, and asked him to take his place amongst the family and assist at their religious exercises. It so happened that the question in the Catechism which came to the stranger’s turn was that which asks, “How many commandments are there?” He answered, “Eleven.” “Eleven!” exclaimed Rutherford; “I am surprised that a person of your age and appearance should not know better. What do you mean?” And he answered, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

The stranger proved to be the great divine and scholar, Archbishop Ussher, the Primate of the Church of Ireland.1 [Note: R. E. Prothero, The Life and Correspondence of Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, ii. 272.]

2. It is the love of one follower of Christ to another. And it was new, altogether new; for till then there were no Christians to love or be loved. The disciples recognized it as new. Of this we have an immediate and conclusive proof. When a new thing comes into the world, one of the first needs is a new name to call it by. A new invention or discovery must have its new name—the “telephone,” let us say. So the disciples, recognizing that a new thing had appeared in the world chose a word,—like “telephone,” compound of two things,—a word not absolutely new, but rarely used before, to name it. Phil-adelphia they called it, “love of brothers,” “brotherly-love.” And their use of this word shows us that they recognized this commandment as not only new, but different in kind from the old commandment of love. In the rope of Christian virtues, as it has been well called, which St. Peter weaves in the first chapter of his second letter, the last two strands are “brotherly-love” and “love,” as the Revised Version does well to inform us: “In your faith supply virtue … and in your godliness love-of-the-brethren, and in your love-of-the-brethren love.” The two virtues are kept distinct, for they rest upon two separate and distinct commands, the one very old, and the other altogether new.

The Law had also already taught some points of this duty. Thus the Mosaic statute said, “Thou shalt not suffer sin upon thy brother,”—a mode of brother-love which, though negative in its form, was positive in its spirit. But in its expressiveness and comprehensiveness this command was new. It was now given in direct phraseology, and it developed the one principle to which all preceding enactments were to be traced. Incidental injunctions had contained some one or other of the features of this brother-love; but all such commands were absorbed in this novel and engrossing declaration, “Love one another.” Various practical elements had been previously delineated; but now, and for the first time, the theory was enforced.1 [Note: J. Eadie, The Divine Love, 244.]

This new love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit dwelling in the Church. It is like the difference between carrying water with great exertion from a distant fountain and having a stream from that fountain flow by one’s own door, from which he can drink copiously, by whose invigorating scent he feels his spirits revived, into which he can throw himself for a refreshing bath. The Holy Spirit comes with glorious blessings to the children of God under the New Covenant. They drink, not with scant measure, but from a full and overflowing cup. They revel in the fulness of eternal love. And He that creates this blessedness is the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, whom Jesus has sent from the Father.2 [Note: A. Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, 574.]


The Old and the New

1. There rest upon the follower of Christ two different commands to love. The old is not taken away; the new is added to it. Thou shalt love thine enemies, thou shalt do good to them that hate thee, thou shalt bless them that curse thee, thou shalt pray for them that despitefully use thee. That is the great Mosaic command: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Christ added nothing to it when He gave it to His followers. He simply pointed out its scope and intensity. Then, when the time came, He gave them another commandment to love, of a different scope and a different nature. And thenceforth these two separate commandments have lain upon every follower of Christ.

If we would take even the old commandment and live up to it, it would solve a great many perplexing problems. Lay it down along the line of life, and see in imagination how life’s problems would find in it their solution. “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Let the slave-master simply apply that rule, and will he not straightway manumit his slave and set him free? Let us apply that rule to the perplexing problem of immigration. What if you or I were living under the harrow in Italy or Germany, and we saw the broad acres of America ready with fruitful juices to answer to our plow and our hoe,—what should we want America to do for us? Apply it to the labour problem. Let all working men, banded together as Knights of Labour or any other organization, do to the employer as they would have the employer do to them; and let the employers, the board of directors, the railroad managers, do to their employed as they would wish done to themselves, the relation being reversed: would there be any labour problem left? Our labour problem as it actually presents itself in real life is simply this: How can a community of men that are dealing with each other selfishly live peaceably? And the answer is, They cannot at all. Peace can be brought about only when that law of justice which is expressed by the Golden Rule and the law, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” are inwrought into the industrial fabric of society. Why, if the girl in the kitchen would always act as she would wish to be acted by if she were mistress, and the mistress would always act to the girl in the kitchen as she would wish to be acted by if she were the girl in the kitchen, the greatest plague of life would be a plague no longer.1 [Note: L. Abbott, Signs of Promise, 234.]

2. But is it possible for the Christian to love in two different ways? Yes; it is not only possible, it is inevitable. Not only must he love the world out of Christ in one way, and his brethren in Christ in another, but he cannot help it. Mark Guy Pearse, in his inimitable way, tells a story which lends itself readily to illustration. “Said one of my little ones to the youngest, in that threatening tone which is usually adopted in teaching, ‘You must be good, you know, or father won‘t love you.’ Then I called him to myself, and I said, gravely and tenderly: ‘Do you know what you have said? It is not true, my boy—not a bit true.’ ‘Isn’t it?’ said the little one, surprised and doubtful. ‘No,’ I said; ‘it is far away from the truth.’ ‘But you won’t love us if we are not good, will you?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I can’t help loving you; I shall love you for ever and ever, because I can’t help it. When you are good I shall love you with a love that makes me glad; and when you are not good I shall love you with a love that hurts me; but I can’t help loving you, because I am your father you know.’ ”

Truly God has bound Himself by love’s sweet constraint to make us capable of a love that is similar to His own; that is to share the highest of all things with us to the full. The self-sacrificing love that began in God must also go on in us. By every means, our hearts must be made capable of possessing and reciprocating it all. God knows how sweet it is to love and to be loved. And so the glory that He gave to Jesus—the supreme glory of self-sacrificing love—He has given even to us also, that we may be one in love even with the Father and the Son. Having therefore equipped us with this highest power, He lays on us the command which, enforced by His example, finds such an echo in our hearts. “Above all things have fervent love among yourselves!”1 [Note: Frank W. Crossley.]

(1) God the Father loves with this twofold love. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” Was the love that demanded that a love that made Him glad? Was it not a love that “hurt” Him? But, says Jesus, “If a man love me, he will keep my word: and my Father will love him.” Why, the Father loves every man, whether he keeps the commandments of the Lord or not. But this is a new love—a love that makes the Father glad. So also is God the Son capable of a twofold love. What a yearning love there is in that cry over the self-doomed city: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!” How different from the love He bore to that disciple—“the disciple whom Jesus loved!”

If you are reverent, you may see the love of Jesus by loading in succession John 11:1-5, Mark 14:3-9, and Luke 10:38-42. “Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” And one man is known to all history as the friend of Jesus. They called Him the friend of publicans and sinners, a name that dimly reveals the inner secret of His life. And the last hours of His life were reserved, not for the crowd or the impenitent, but for those who loved Him best, and whose love He trusted when He went down to death.2 [Note: F. W. Lewis, The Unseen Life, 18.]

(2) And so also to the follower of the Lord is this double love not merely possible but quite inevitable—a love that hurts, and a love that makes him glad. Sharing the love of Christ which sent Him to die for sinners, he loves those for whom Christ died, though they do not recognize Him as a Prince and a Saviour. It is a real love in the true Christian, an anxious, eager, almost consuming love sometimes—a love which brings no gladness, but burns the breast with yearning desire. It is a love which suffers persecution, which makes the gentle woman courageous, which amazes and staggers the unbeliever. But there is a love also which makes the follower of Jesus glad.

In a block of London’s poorest abodes a woman was visiting one night. Trying room after room, she found only misery, filth, brutality. When to the weary knock at one more door a cheerful “Come in” was the response, and she found herself welcomed at the bright fireside of a poor but real follower of Jesus, there rushed forth to meet that welcome a love that made her glad. The one is a love that demands self-denial, the other is spontaneous, irresistible. The one makes us fit for the inheritance of the saints in light, the other proves us saints upon the earth.


The Example

1. “As I loved you”—these words point to an action which is past and done, not to a continued state. Westcott endeavours to preserve the tense and yet apply it in a general way. “The exact form (‘I loved’),” he says “implies that Christ’s work is now ideally finished.” But a much simpler explanation lies to our hand. “That ye love one another; as I loved you.” The act He refers to is just past. It is the washing of their feet. We view that marvellous action chiefly as a great wonder of condescending love. He meant it as an instance of true brotherly love. If I, your Lord and Master, act as a brother towards you, ye ought to act as brothers towards one another. A new commandment I give unto you, that ye act towards one another as I have just acted towards you. The whole strange action of the feet-washing leads up to this command; and the command interprets the action. “As I have just loved you”—the exact meaning of the word is brought out better by that translation than by any other. In washing their feet He offered them a single instance of the brotherly love He commanded. It was, however, an instance which involved the principle, and was capable of endless application.

2. The instance of washing the disciples’ feet involves, we say, the principle. From this and other instances of Christ’s love St. John deduces that principle and applies it: “Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Not die for the brethren. We may be called to death, and we may not; but we are to lay down our lives for the brethren. It is a comparatively easy thing to die for other people; but to live for them,—to lie down in the muddy road and let other men walk over us, to stand and let other people climb upon us, to be underneath our equals, to be the means by which they climb to preferment and reward,—that is hard. And that is what Christ did, and what Christ held up as the ideal for His children evermore.

“It is well,” said John Wesley, “that you should be thoroughly sensible of this: the Heaven of Heavens is Love, there is nothing higher in religion, there is in effect nothing else. If you look for anything but more Love, you are looking wide of the mark: you are getting out of the royal way.”

“Beloved, let us love one another,” says St. John,

Eagle of eagles calling from above:

Words of strong nourishment for life to feed upon,

“Beloved, let us love.”

Voice of an eagle, yea, Voice of the Dove:

If we may love, winter is past and gone;

Publish we, praise we, for lo it is enough.

More sunny than sunshine that ever yet shone,

Sweetener of the bitter, smoother of the rough,

Highest lesson of all lessons for all to con,

“Beloved, let us love.”1 [Note: C. G. Rossetti.]

3. Brotherly love is to be so openly shown that the followers of Christ will be recognized thereby. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” Discipleship had previously been recognized by various tests. But no “master” had ever dreamed of imposing such an obligation, and creating by it such a characteristic. The scholars of the Academy, the Portico, or the Lyceum were at once known by their modes of reasoning, their attachment to distinctive theories, and their frequent appeals to Plato, Zeno, or Aristotle. The Jew was recognized by his dress and language, his reverence for Moses, his selection among meats and drinks, and his antipathy to all the races of the uncircumcision. If you entered a company of Greeks, and found them theorizing upon pleasure, its nature, enjoyment, and modes, you would at once pronounce them to be Epicureans; or if, mixing with another crowd, you were met with such sounds as fate, liberty, necessity, wisdom, and chief good, you would feel in a moment that you were among the Stoics. Did you, in any city of Judæa, see a man clothed with a robe fringed deeper than common, and adorned with a phylactery of unusual breadth; did you follow him, and hear him pray with a stentorian voice to attract all passers-by, or see him give alms so ostentatiously as to draw upon him the public gaze and admiration, you would have no doubt that you beheld a Pharisee. And if, on the streets of Jerusalem, you met one in whose dress the prominent portions of the national uniform were carefully pared down, who, as he passed with you near the temple, observed with a quiet sneer that the scent of the burning sacrifice tainted the air, or who, as he looked on the place of sepulchres, assumed a philosophic air and spoke of death as the debt of nature, as a hard and universal necessity; smiled at the idea of a spirit-land, and hinted that the prevailing belief on that point was not consonant with reason, or based on a rational interpretation of Scripture—you would have no difficulty in detecting the speaker to be a Sadducee. But our Lord discards what is external; and His followers are to be known not by dress, language, or occupation, but by the mutual kindness which they cherish and exercise towards one another. They are to be known not by mind, but by heart; not by intellect, but by soul.

In the first age of the Church the critical importance of the mutual love of Christians was recognized. Jerome preserves an anecdote of St. John which admirably illustrates this fact. In his last days, when he had to be carried into church, and was too old to speak for any length of time, the Apostle used in addressing the congregation to repeat simply the old commandment, which yet is, indeed, always new, “Little children, love one another.” Then, as ever since, Christians were impatient of that teaching. His disciples, weary of the continual repetition, asked why he always said this. “Because,” he replied, “it is the Lord’s commandment: and if it only be fulfilled, it is enough.” Tertullian, in a famous passage of his “Apology,” describes the impression made on the heathen by the mutual love of believers. They could not understand it. “See,’ say they, ‘how they love each other!’ for they themselves hate each other. ‘And see how ready they are to die for each other!’ for they themselves are more ready to slay each other.”1 [Note: H. H. Henson, Godly Union and Concord, 161.]

Two centuries later than Tertullian a still more illustrious Christian—Chrysostom—describes the scandal caused to the heathen by the lovelessness of believers. His language is on many grounds very remarkable, and singularly apposite to the conditions of the modern Church. He is commenting on Christ’s “new commandment,” and the testimony which, by obeying it, Christians are to deliver to the world; and, after his practice, he draws on his intimate knowledge of the religious life of his time in order to illustrate the sacred text, and to press home on his hearers its practical lessons. “Miracles, he says, “do not so much attract the heathen as the mode of life; and nothing so much causes a right life as love … And with good reason. When one of them sees the greedy man, the plunderer, exhorting others to do the contrary, when he sees the man who was commanded to love even his enemies treating his very kindred like brutes, he will say that the words are folly … We, we are the cause of their remaining in error. Their own doctrines they have long condemned, and in like manner they admire ours, but they are hindered by our mode of life.” Chrysostom goes on to say that it is vain to point out to the disgusted heathen the virtues of famous Christians of former times. About them they are sceptical so long as the Christians whom they see and know are scandalously unworthy of their profession. “Wherefore,” he concludes, “I fear lest some grievous thing come to pass, and we draw down upon us heavy vengeance from God.”2 [Note: Ibid. 162.]

Almost twenty years ago, while living in America, I went to reside in a little town called Delaware, in Ohio; and the first Saturday evening of my residence I went as a young man to the Y.M.C.A. prayer-meeting. There were about one hundred young men present, and the meeting was of a most hearty type. The last hymn sung was—

Blest be the tie that binds

Our hearts in Christian love.

And during the singing of that hymn there was a general handshaking going on, and I, as a stranger, was specially singled out for attention. The result, so far as I was concerned, was that I attended that prayer-meeting regularly for more than five years. That may be a trifle too unconventional for our Churches, but we want more, much more, of the spirit that prompted that exhibition of sympathetic Christian friendliness and love.1 [Note: W. Lee, From Dust to Jewels, 96.]

“What is love, Mary?” said Seventeen to Thirteen, who was busy with her English lessons.

“I think it is a verb,” said John, “and I think it must have been originally the perfect of live, like thrive, throve, strive, strove.”

“Capital, John,” suddenly growled uncle Oldbuck, “it was that originally, and it will be our own faults, children, if it is not that at last, as well as, ay, and more than at first.”2 [Note: John Brown, Horæ Subsecivæ, 2nd Ser., 299.]

If we really and lovingly studied the characters of others we should often end by being interested and even fascinated where at first we were only repelled. A portrait-painter must often feel this. Some of us may be reminded of the lines of Browning. “Beside the Drawing-board”:—

Little girl with the poor coarse hand

I turned from to a cold clay cast—

I have my lesson, understand

The worth of flesh and blood at last.

Nothing but beauty in a Hand?

Because he could not change the hue,

Mend the lines and make them true

To this which met his soul’s demand—

Would Da Vinci turn from you?

And, more than that, if we love and care for others we shall often find that the very fact of our loving them helps them to make themselves more love-worthy, just as a carefully tended plant responds to the gardener’s care.3 [Note: E. Wordsworth, Onward Steps, 129.]

“As every lord giveth a certain livery to his servants,” says Latimer, “Love is the Livery of Christ.”

The New Commandment


Abbott (L.), Signs of Promise, 232.

Alford (H.), Quebec Chapel Sermons, iv. 223.

Bernard (T. D.), The Central Teaching of Jesus Christ, 113.

Eadie (J.), The Divine Love, 242.

Goodwin (H.), Parish Sermons, iii. 258.

Greenhough (J. G.), in Great Texts of the NT, 97.

Henson (H. H.), Godly Union and Concord, 153.

Horne (W.), Religious Life and Thought, 13.

Horton (R. F.), The Commandments of Jesus, 319.

Hughes (H. P.), The Philanthropy of God, 15.

Jack (J. W.), After His Likeness, 13.

Kuyper (R.), The Work of the Holy Spirit, 570.

Lee (W.), From Dust to Jewels, 85.

Lewis (F. W.), The Unseen Life, 13.

Lilley (J. P.), The Pathway of Light, 79.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: John ix.–xiv., 226.

Maclaren (A.), Last Sheaves, 56.

Mantle (J. G.), According to the Pattern, 75.

Marjoribanks (T.), The Fulness of the Godhead, 77.

Morgan (G. C.), The Ten Commandments, 203.

Robertson (F. W.), Sermons, 1st Ser., 234.

Senior (W.), God’s “Ten Words,” 345.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, li. (1905), No. 241.

Stanford (C.), Central Truths, 153.

Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit) xiii. (1876), No. 1008.

Wilson (J. H.), The Gospel and its Fruits, 233.

Wilson (J. M.), Rochdale Sermons, 239.

Wordsworth (E.), Onward Steps, 123.

Christian World Pulpit, xlvii. 166 (Klein); lx. 305 (Henson); lxxvi. 49 (Ronald).

Church of England Pulpit, lii. 290 (Henson); lxi. 322 (Plummer).

Churchman’s Pulpit: Holy Week: vi. 490 (Robertson).

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